Creator: Joe Penhall
Director: Asif Kapadia
Starring: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross
(N.B. This review may contain spoilers)
At around the half-way point in this, the first episode of Mindhunter that progresses past the opening expositional phase of the narrative, FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench are celebrating the assumedly successful capture of a man responsible for two murders in a small town. Amidst the celebrations, they are referred to as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, in that order. Neither seem particularly enamoured or repelled by the assertion, but it paints an important picture of how other characters in the show are going to see Ford and Tench going forward. The important question is: is that how this show wants us to see them?
They are, it is obvious to say, investigative pioneers. The premise of the show depends on their study of serial killers being revolutionary and a focal point of this episode is a legitimate college professor all but telling the audience directly that what Ford and Tench are doing is going to change the way criminal justice works for years to come. But, it is important to note, that the show also seems to go out of its way to prove that the partners-in-investigation are nothing like the superhuman investigators that Holmes and Watson are portrayed as.
Although they do successfully question and arrest the man responsible for the double murder (although the show never outright states that they have the right person, nor does it cast any doubt that this is the case) they do so through a hunch based on vague psychological evidence and a bullying line of questioning. Though the show never actively demonises their methods, the manner of investigation they follow is definitely somewhat ignoble. Framing them from below, the camera looks up at Ford and Tench abusing their power to coerce an, albeit probably guilty, man into confessing.
Ford and Tench couldn’t be more human and this show constantly points that out.
But what is far more obvious is that Mindhunter clearly differentiates itself from any show that may attach itself to the Sherlock Holmes moniker, especially the bombastic BBC adaptation Sherlock that ended in a shroud of confused and disappointed fans earlier this year. Where that show seemed keen to turn investigating detectives into superheroes, Mindhunter is far more enthused with the idea that they are flawed citizens even before they are public servants. Ford and Tench couldn’t be more human and this show constantly points that out.
Perhaps the most surprisingly exciting part of this episode came when another character was finally given an opportunity to be human. Debbie, still excellently portrayed by Hannah Gross, has finally been given something to do. Up until now she has been a character, but a character made up of opposites to her boyfriend Holden Ford. This episode contains a short scene wherein she flirtatiously alludes to threatening to stab said boyfriend during foreplay, which finally shades her character in a little more. It is this kind of background character work that stops Mindhunter from becoming a well-shot buddy detective thriller and it would benefit the show to do more of it.
But this episode still contained plenty of great scenes featuring the trio of Ford, Tench and the psychopathic Ed Kempner and Cameron Britton’s performance as the latter remains as spine-chilling as ever. One assumes the show will eventually outgrow him but and that moment will be an unfortunate one when it comes. For the time being though these scenes continue to electrify the show and allow some forgiveness for the occasional scene of good-cop-bad-cop relationship building. Holden Ford and Bill Tench are no Holmes and Watson and this show does its best work when it doesn’t treat them like they are.